Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to FOX Sports 1 this weekend because fuck your social life, David Branch is back in the promotion and ready to make some noise in the cluttered 185-pound division.
Hoping to snap his impressive winning streak is former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, who shares top billing for the UFC Fight Night 116 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, booked for PPG Paints Arena on Saturday night (Sept. 16, 2017) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Elsewhere on the six-fight main card, which I will clumsily dissect because that’s what they pay me to do, “Platinum” Mike Perry hopes to use late replacement Alex Reyes as a ticket to bigger and better things in the 170-pound division, while Hector Lombard tries to salvage what’s left of his career against the likes of Anthony Smith.
Some other dudes are fighting too, but this is a special postage stamp edition of my pre-fight picks, because I plan on mailing it in. Hopefully you’ll read it anyway, because I’m sure to make a lot of bland predictions.
Plus lots of dick jokes!
To see Patrick Stumberg’s breakdown of the UFC Fight Night 116 “Prelims” portion of the Pittsburgh fight card, spread across FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass, go here and here. Odds and betting lines for “Rockhold vs. Branch” can be located here.
Let’s get it over with.
185 lbs.: Luke Rockhold (15-3) vs. David Branch (21-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: It’s hard to take fighters seriously, regardless of accolades, if they are unable to find success inside the Octagon. David Branch is a perfect example and represents one of the many variables in combat sports that are difficult to predict.
Branch was not invited back to the UFC party following his first run, which ended at 2-2 with zero finishes in either victory, but two finishes in both of his losses. Since then, the grappling wizard went on a torrid 13-1 run, which includes 11 straight wins and two division titles.
Was Branch a mediocre fighter who found success by recycling cans? Or a great fighter who needed time (and fights) to grow as a martial artist? The answer will likely tell us how well he can deal with opponent Luke Rockhold.
Honestly, his first fight back with UFC, one of the most boring fights of the year against Krzysztof Jotko at UFC 211, has me leaning more toward the former and less toward the latter.
Luke Rockhold realized against Michael Bisping that you don’t have to be a power puncher to park on queer street, all you need is perfect aim. Branch has just two knockout wins over the past seven years, a span of 20 fights, so I don’t believe Rockhold is going to sleep.
And Branch is much more comfortable grappling.
As Chris Weidman discovered at UFC 194, there are few middleweights who are as physically imposing as Rockhold, who is used to training with some of the world’s best at American Kickboxing Academy (AKA).
Like Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, just to name a few.
Rockhold is also well balanced in his attacks. He works a potent kicking game and can keep pace with some of the division’s best wrestlers. He’s never been submitted and can do 25 minutes without batting an eyelash.
Without seeing Branch beat or even compete against a fighter in the top 10, it’s impossible to pick him with any degree of confidence. In addition, he doesn’t have the kind of knockout power to make him a live dog.
But he is durable enough to make it a fight, even if it’s boring AF.
Final prediction: Rockhold def. Branch by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: “Platinum” Mike Perry (10-1) vs. Alex Reyes (13-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: Mike Perry has been known to get himself into trouble on social media, from the Dong Hyun Kim fiasco to the Conor McGregor comparisons. I don’t know him personally and I don’t care if he’s a shmuck, because he knows how to finish a fight.
10 wins, 10 violent knockouts.
I was excited to see him bang against a grizzled veteran like Thiago Alves, but that was not meant to be. “Pitbull” remains leashed in Florida and Perry gets the unheralded (but nonetheless talented) Alex Reyes in the Brazilian’s place.
Like Perry, Reyes is also a prolific finisher, putting away all 13 of his wins in devastating fashion. Unlike Perry, some of those wins come by way of submission, which indicates a more balanced offense.
Unfortunately, it’s come against lesser competition, like the 12-21 Quinton McCottrell.
As with the main event, Reyes is coming into the lion’s den with nothing but a great record on the regional circuit. He is clearly talented but then again so is Perry and when the fists start flying, I have to side with the more savage striker.
A first-round finish would not surprise me.
Final prediction: Perry def. Reyes by knockout
185 lbs.: Hector Lombard (34-7-1, 2 NC) vs. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (27-12)
Nostradumbass predicts: There was a time when Hector Lombard was one of the most feared middleweights on the planet — and for good reason. Aside from his Olympic experience, “Shango” “Lightning” “Showweather” or whatever the hell his nickname is these days has 26 finishes in 34 wins, 19 of them by way of knockout.
Lombard eventually found his way down to the welterweight division and his career has been in a constant free fall ever since, to the tune of three straight losses, two of them by way of knockout. Whether or not that’s attributed to coming off the junk, or the fact that he’s 39 years old and has been getting punched for 15 years remains to be seen.
We may or may not find out against Anthony Smith, a prolific finisher who is 3-1 under the UFC banner and coming off back-to-back knockout wins. His regional experience includes UFC veterans like Josh Neer and Brock Jardine, among others, so he’s not exactly wet behind the ears.
“Lionheart” is also five inches taller with a five-inch reach advantage and his blend of knockouts and submissions — 13 and 11 — makes him a threat anywhere the fight goes. In addition, UFC jitters are a thing of the past and I’m not sure Lombard jitters are even a thing these days.
The nostalgic in me wants to pick Lombard because he’s a big ball of violence. But he’s looked so awful in recent years that I can’t imagine a sudden transformation — even with a return to middleweight — that would negate his snowballing issues.
Final prediction: Smith def. Lombard by technical knockout
155 lbs.: Gregor “The Gift” Gillespie (9-0) vs. Jason “Nicoyas” Gonzalez (11-3)
Nostradumbass predicts: This lightweight showdown will represent the third fight for both Gregor Gillespie and Jason Gonzalez, with “The Gift” sitting at 2-0 inside the Octagon against 1-1 for “Nicoyas.”
Gillespie cut his teeth under the Ring of Combat (ROC) umbrella but his most impressive win to date is a first-round shellacking over Andrew Holbrook at UFC 210. Likewise, Gonzalez is coming off an impressive finish, courtesy of his submission over J.C. Cottrell, but was also starched by Drew Dober at UFC 203.
Both fighters have a knack for ending fights early and violently, but I have to favor Gillespie’s power when the cage door closes in Pittsburgh. Gonzalez will have the edge when the fight hits the floor, but he must first find a way to get it there without getting murked in the process.
Final prediction: Gillespie def. Gonzalez by knockout
170 lbs.: Sergio “The Panther” Moraes (12-2-1) vs. Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (10-1)
Nostradumbass predicts: After sawing his way through The Ultimate fighter (TUF) 21, Kamaru Usman continued to punish the welterweight division with his brute strength and powerful wrestling, extending his winning streak to nine straight in the process.
I’m a little concerned that he hasn’t scored a knockout in five trips to the cage — after racking up five on the regional circuit — but I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and right now he’s winning.
That makes this a difficult fight for Sergio Moraes, a talented but aging grappler who also forgot how to finish fights, having gone to the scorecards in three straight. His offense is not as straight forward as Usman’s, which is both good and bad, but working in his favor is the threat of submissions from his back.
And Usman loves to wrestle.
At 35 years old, I don’t envision a scenario where Moraes keeps pace with his younger, more powerful foe. His guard is stingy and his mind is sharp, but it’s very hard to mount an effective offense when you have to spend 15 minutes in survival mode.
Final prediction: Usman def. Moraes by unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Justin “El Blanco” Ledet (8-0, 1 NC) vs. Azunna “Zulu” Anyanwu (14-4)
Nostradumbass predicts: Heavyweight fights, if you’re playing the percentages, are usually the bouts most likely to suck, because fat guys lumbering around the cage for 15 minutes throwing sloppy punches takes the Arts out of the Mixed and Martial.
Sure, we have our exceptions, but once you start moving down the ranks, things can get pretty ugly.
Not this time, as Justin Ledet and Azunna Anyanwu gear up for tomorrow night’s curtain jerker, and while the former has two fights under the UFC banner, the latter has zero and at age 36, it’s now or never.
Working in “Zulu’s” favor is the fact that he’s coming off three straight knockout wins and has 11 finishes in 14 victories. That’s not far from the well-rounded “El Blanco,” who stopped seven of eight.
When comparing performances on the overhead projector, it’s clear that Ledet is the leaner, faster fighter with a bigger tool box. If he can stay away from Anyanwu’s power punch, he should be able to wear him down and work his ground game.
From there, it’s academic.
Final prediction: Ledet def. Anyanwu by submission
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 116 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the FOX Sports 1 “Prelims” matches at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.
For much more on UFC Fight Night 116 click here.